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Outside, a thriving garden and happy chickens set the stage, and provide ingredients, for a new food and wine experience coming out of a recently completed commercial kitchen at Brian Arden Winery.

“The chickens keep escaping into the garden area,” said Mary Shapeell, even though they’ve been provided with yummy bugs to eat by winery owner Brian Harlan.

On a recent May day guests were greeted with a sparkling wine – the only wine on the food pairing menu that isn’t made by Brian Arden Winery – and a Kewpie Devilled Egg made with an egg produced by one of the eight resident chickens who are protected by their one rooster. Wasting nothing, the chickens’ manure is used as fertilizer in the garden, that Shapeell said will expand soon.

A tour of the property, included with the food and wine pairing, includes learning about the 260 zinfandel vines planted in front. The vines are cuttings grafted from vines growing on the family’s home where Harlan grew up. The vines at the winery are up for adoption, of sorts, by wine club members who can hang a dog tag on the vine with their name or quote to honor someone or something. The dog tags double as a nuisance to birds who might be hungry looking for some berries to nibble on.

In the open-air commercial kitchen, which was completed August 2017, executive chef Ben Weakly prepares the rest of the food for the pairing.

“My food pairing enhances the wine, I don’t ever want to overpower the wine,” Weakly said. “Food should be clean. You should know what you are eating.”

To complement the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($34) called “Amanda Style” – so named for Harlan’s wife Amanda Lusk-Harlan – Weakly selected fresh seasonal spring vegetables, dotted with freshly made-in-house ricotta, pickled onions and a delicate lemon vinaigrette.

Next a sweet corn soup with bacon, seared scallops and chive oil drizzled on top accompanied the 2015 Chardonnay Reserve ($55) dubbed “Best of Both Worlds” because the winery splits the chardonnay juice, half going into stainless steel and the other half goes through malolactic fermentation. In the future the corn that will go into the soup will be grown in the winery’s garden, Shapeell said. This pairing in particular is a consistent favorite among guests and staff.

“It Was Just Too Good” says it all about the next pairing, which was a 2015 Sangiovese ($45) paired with baby eggplant parmesan with San Marzonos, mozzarella and basil.

The 2013 Cabernet Franc called “Why Amanda Loves Me” is named so because Brian believed that when Amanda first tasted a Cabernet Franc he made was the first time she told him she loved him. Amanda counters that she told Brian she loved the wine. Brian claims that loving his wine is loving him, they are one and the same, he says with a grin. The wine is beautifully matched with pappardelle pasta with five different mushrooms, asparagus, confit tomatoes and prosciutto, and Weakly said a tiny bit of truffle oil to stick with his philosophy to enhance, but not overpower.

The finale is nicknamed “Benny’s Boozy Berries and Pannacotta” and if one is lucky it might come with a sip of a 10-year-old vintage port that Harlan makes by continually adding to the mix every year so you are tasting 10 years of grapes at any given time.

Harlan is keeping the introductory price of this new food and wine pairing experience at what some might consider a ridiculously low price compared to other Napa Valley wineries. It’s $65 per person, and Harlan said he knows he could charge more, and he might raise the price in the future, but right now he just wants to keep it low to encourage guests to try it. The portions are small on their own, but altogether complete a full five-course meal.

Brian Arden Winery is located at 331 Silverado Trail.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor